Reviewed by: Georgia Cassimatis
If you’ve ever youtubed Tina Turner’s 1971 performance of ‘River Deep Mountain High’, you’ll realise whoever is going to perform the star role of Tina in ‘Tina - The Tina Turner Musical’ will need to have off-the-charts stamina, dancing skills and vocal chords, to the point where you wander, who could possibly pull this off?
Well, she was found, in the form of Australian-Zimbabwean Ruva Ngwenya; one of musical theatre’s most sought-after performers. If there is one reason to see this show, which has finally hit Australian shores after worldwide success, it is because Ngwenya has managed with her impressive stamina, and vast, rich vocal range to emulate one of the world’s most cherished Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Queens, to the point where watching ‘Tina - The Tina Turner Musical’ is also like watching A Star is Born in parallel. She even nails the Tina Turner signature style dance moves, where she rocks the short skirts and legs, so she can be free to ‘shake and strutt’. Brilliant, powerful and strong: Ngwenya’s performance reinforces the reason why Tina Turner continues to resonate on a global scale.
Told in the format of the Jukebox musical; where the artist’s songs tell the story, the story (written by Katori Hall, Frank Keterlaar and Kees Prins) begins with Tina’s childhood, where she was born Anna Bae Bullock (Amara Kavaliku) in 1939 in a place called Nutbush Tennessee. Deserted by her mother (Ibinabo Jack), she is brought up by her Grandmother (Deni Gordon), until she moves to St Louis at the age of 16 to be with her mother and sister, Alline (Jayme-Lee Hanekom). It is while out on the town that destiny strikes, and she meets Ike Turner (Tim Omaji) at Club Manhattan. So impressed is he with her voice, energy and pizzazz, she joins his band and the ‘Ike and Tina Turner Revue’ is born.
Even though her career is made, sadly she pays the price for it in the form or relentless domestic violence at the hands of Ike, financial ruin, racism and a drug overdose; swallowing 50 valium tablets, as a way to escape his abuse. While it is a warts and all account where the writers don’t hold back on what Tina herself, as an Executive Producer, wanted to share, the violence for some may be confronting. She does leave Ike after 16 years of hell and against the odds of being a 40+ year old black woman trying to resurrect a once successful career, it is Australia manager/producer Roger Davies (Mat Verevis) who rescues her from the bowels of tacky Vegas to launch her second coming, her solo career.
Directed by Phyllida Llloyd (Australia’s resident director is Leah Howard), while the story engulfs the audience with its deeply personal account and comeback sensation of a woman rising like a Phoenix in the ashes, the simple, sophisticated set design (Jeff Sugg) allows for great, flowing, pacey transitions, at the same time highlighting the dynamism of the band (led by musical director Christina Polimos), the robust choreography (Anthony Van Laast) and the sparkly, fabulous costumes (Mark Thompson).
While all her hit songs are there including ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Tiny Dancer’ and ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’, for a Gen Xer like myself, who grew up dancing to Nutbush City Limits in nightclubs, watching her dominate the movie screen with her performance as Aunty Entity in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, singing ‘Thunderdome’ and getting swept up in the 1990s NRL anthem Simply The Best, this was pure joy.
Touted as one of the best musicals out there, this is an audience pleaser.
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is playing now at the Theatre Royal, Sydney until 22 October: www.theatreroyalsydney.com